“…’In the UK, …partnerships have resulted in significant achievements including taking a billion units of alcohol out of the market and labelling 80% of products with important health information, and over 90% with a warning about drinking when pregnant.'”
A major OECD study says women who went to university drink more, and the average drinker would live longer if they turned down just one drink a week
By Laura Donnelly, Health Editor
12 May 2015
Britain is the worst country in the western world for heavy drinking among professional women, according to research showing “the dark side of equality”.
A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows women in this country are twice as likely to be problem drinkers if they have a good education.
Authors warned that Britain is one of the few countries in the world in which professional women appear to be drinking to keep up with men.
One in five women in England who has been to university regularly drinks too much, the report found – compared with one in ten of those with lower levels of education.
The research found that the link between high levels of education among women and hazardous drinking was stronger in this country than in any other.
Mark Pearson, OECD head of health, said the trends reflected “the dark side of equality” with middle-class women risking their health as they adopted traditional male drinking habits.
He said binge drinking by female professionals was a “particular characteristic” of the UK, with women moving into industries with heavy drinking habits, and taking their cues from men.
“You have seen women moving to areas which were traditionally male and were traditionally drinking professions,” he said, citing the financial sector as an example.
“As women have moved in to those professions they have adopted the patterns that were there for men.”
The trends “pretty unique” to the UK, he said, and was not shared by other countries with high female employment rates.
Researchers suggested the fact women are starting families later might also mean heavy drinking was more likely to become embedded into their lifestyle.
The report says: “Women with higher education may have better-paid jobs involving higher degrees of responsibility and thus may drink more heavily because they have more stress as well as more chances to go out drinking with male colleagues with higher limits of drinking.”
“More years spent in education, improved labour market prospects, increased opportunities for socialisation, delayed pregnancies and family ties, are all part of women’s changing lifestyles, in which alcohol drinking, sometimes heavy drinking, has easily found a place,” it adds
The highest proportion of hazardous drinking among women was found among those aged 45 to 64.
The report said much of this was done at home, “hidden from public view” with wine the most common drink consumed.
While more education and a higher social status increased the chance that women were heavy drinkers, there was little difference between men with different education levels, the research found.
Researchers said it was unclear why women in other countries had embraced the labour market, without feeling obliged to drink as much as their male colleagues.
And they warned teenage girls in this country were following the example of binge drinking women, and ending up more likely than boys to have been drunk twice by the age of 15.
Katherine Brown, Director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies accused the drinks industry of “aggressive marketing tactics” to persuade women to drink more.
She said: “In recent years we’ve seen a huge surge in female oriented sweet, fizzy, pink drinks, often linked to sponsorship deals with cosmetic brands, women’s daytime tv shows and sometimes even breast cancer awareness campaigns.”
The statistics show the link between high levels of education and regularly drinking above recommended limits is greatest among women in England, far higher than in other studies examined, including France, Finland, Germany, Canada, Ireland, Australia and the United States.
The report, which compared 40 countries, found that alcohol consumption in the UK was the 11th highest, with the highest levels found in Estonia, followed by Austria, France, Ireland and the Czech republic.
Average levels of alcohol consumed in the UK are almost 12 per cent higher than the OECD average, with 10.6 litres of pure alcohol consumed, per head, the major study shows.
Women with higher education tend to drink more
Four in five drinkers would live longer if they cut their alcohol intake by just a small glass of wine a week, the study says.
The OECD report says detailed policy research shows that “the vast majority of drinkers” would benefit from cutting back.
Although small amounts of alcohol are linked to health benefits, the report said that overall, alcohol is causing more harm than good.
The study says that reducing weekly intake by one unit – the equivalent of half a pint of beer or a 125 ml glass of wine – is enough to reduce the risk of death from all causes.
A spokesman for the Portman group, which represents the alcohol industry, said: “This report should not take precedent over the official UK government statistics that show significant declines in underage drinking, binge drinking and alcohol-related violent crime during the last decade. The British drink less alcohol than many EU countries like France, Germany and Portugal.”
“However, the report rightly recommends that alcohol policy should target harmful drinkers first and that open dialogue and cooperation with alcohol producers and retailers is part of an effective policy approach in tackling alcohol harms,” he added. “In the UK, such partnerships have resulted in significant achievements including taking a billion units of alcohol out of the market and labelling 80% of products with important health information, and over 90% with a warning about drinking when pregnant.”